Posted by Peggy Farber on 1/31/2018

If you were to look at a photo of a suburban neighborhood from the 1950s and one from today, you would notice many similarities. The houses have gotten much larger, but they still have perfectly manicured lawns and milky white fences. American culture has come a long way since the days of nuclear families. An emphasis on conservation and environmentalism has added recycling bins to many of our homes. But by and large our backyards remain mostly unchanged. Some people are electing to deviate from those norms to make their homes and yard more eco-friendly. Part of that change has been to adapt natural landscaping techniques that make your backyard seem less chiseled-out and more a part of its natural environment. With proper planning and care, natural landscaping can give your yard both a modern and natural look, and it won't look messy or overgrown. Here are some tips to get you started on natural landscaping in your backyard.

Native planting

A big part of natural landscaping is understanding your local plant life. Planting flora that is native to your area is not only helping your yard look more natural but also helping your local plant and wildlife. Often we bring in "exotic" plants and flowers without understanding the ecological issues that can arise from invasive species, both on other plants as well as on the local animals. So what are some ways you could alter your yard to house more local plant life? That depends entirely on your taste and on your local flora. If you live in a coastal, warm area, you might choose a sand or shell path in your yard that leads through tall grasses. If you live inland it might make more sense to choose stones or pebbles for your walkway and a variety of shrubs, flowers, and grasses for around the yard.

Lawn dividers

You won't find any white picket fences naturally occurring in the woods. But nature has its own barriers that can be adapted for use around your property. Vines, trees, bushes, and even rocks can all be used as natural barriers. People have used rock walls to mark of their property for centuries, and for good reason: they last forever (with some occasional maintenance) and they compliment the natural environment of your yard.

Make your lawn livable

Your lawn should be hospitable for your plants, your local wildlife, and for you. Using natural wooden benches, tree swings, and maintained paths will make your backyard look like the walkthrough gardens that we see in old English manor houses. But you should also keep in mind the birds, bugs, and other animals that will frequent your yard. By not using chemical insecticides or weed killers you're already helping your local wildlife thrive. But you can attract even more birds by setting inconspicuous feeders in the trees around your yard.

What's to gain from natural landscaping?

Aside from looking nice, natural landscaping has countless other benefits. When you're growing plants native to your area you know the plants are predisposed to grow well in your yard. That means less maintenance, watering, and less money spent buying replacements for dead plants. You'll be helping the local wildlife fit in, and you'll be helping yourself by giving your yard a refreshing, natural look.





Posted by Peggy Farber on 9/7/2016

planting flowersWe all want our yard to look perfect, or at least better than the neighbor's. But taking care of the yard takes a lot of work and many of us come to depend on harsh weedkillers or insect deterrents to keep the yard looking pristine. What many don't know is that there are other, more eco-friendly options that will keep the pests at bay. Better yet, many of these solutions are easily made from household items. Follow these tips to keep your yard looking great without filling the ground and air with chemicals.

Killing weeds

What is a weed? Ralph Waldo Emerson lovingly describes a weed as "a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." While this may be true, it doesn't mean we have to let them take over our grass each year. Weeds are invasive because they spread--quickly--and kill off the plants and grasses we want in their place. To combat weeds there's no need for harsh chemicals that harm your yard and break your wallet. Instead, try diluting some white vinegar with water and pouring it on the weeds. This should take care of most of the weeds. However, the vinegar will drastically change the pH of your soil, so you don't want to rely on this for the rest of the season. The next time you see a weed popping up, pour some boiling water directly on it. It will kill the weed but keep your soil healthy so your grass or flowers can keep growing normally.

Insect deterrent

Having bugs in your yard is a good thing. They're part of the natural ecosystem that helps maintain your soil and pollenate your plants. Sometimes, however, insects can become invasive and destructive to the vegetation in your yard. If you notice beetles eating all of your plants' leaves, dilute some plain Dawn dish soap with water and spray it onto the infected leaves. The soap won't harm your plants but it will drive the beetles crazy, sending them off to someone else's yard. Nature has its own insecticides that few of us take advantage of. Plant marigolds, for example, around the perimeter of your property to deter scores of insects and other pests from ever entering your yard. See this helpful list for many other pest controlling plants.

Bug Repellant

We've talked a lot about protecting your yard from invasive pests. But what about protecting yourself? Whether it's pesky flies or biting mosquitos, there are many natural ways to keep the bugs away when you're out in the yard. Most effective commercial insect repellants contain DEET, a strong smelling chemical insecticide. We've all heard about the dangers of DEET, which was developed by the U.S. Army in the 1940s for use in warfare. The chemical compound has been approved and re-approved for use by the EPA since then, but studies have raised questions of its safety. Many people object to using DEET based on its potent smell alone. So, what are the alternatives? Many have taken the bug spray conundrum into their own hands, mixing various herbs and essential oils to keep the bugs away. Check out these recipes and let us know which one works for you!





Posted by Peggy Farber on 5/25/2016

If you keep a garden but find yourself throwing away leftover food, you're probably missing out on the opportunity to reclaim the nutrients of that food through composting. When you compost, you're essentially speeding up nature's process of breaking down organic matter into fertile soil. The compost can then be used to nourish the soil of your garden or lawn. Today you'll learn how to make a compost bin, mix the compost, and then spread it into your lawn and garden so you can make the most of the extra waste you have at home.

Making a compost bin

There are endless ways to make a compost bin. In fact, a bin isn't even necessary to make good compost, and some people choose to just keep a pile that they turn throughout the year. Making a bin has many advantages, however: it keeps the compost pile warm and moist (two essential elements that speed up decomposition), it keeps pests out of your compost, and it keeps your neighbors happy who might not want to smell decomposing food when they go outside. Compost bins are commonly made from wood, chicken wire or plastic. Some towns even subsidize compost bins to encourage people to compost rather than throwing their compostable waste in the trash. Old wooden pallets are a great product to build compost bins from.

Adding compost to your bin

People who are new to composting often worry about what can be composted. Once you get started, though, you'll soon realize that almost any organic matter will break down in a compost bin. Beginners often stick to vegetables, coffee grounds, grains, and materials from your yard. Greens and Browns Compostable materials are often broken down into greens (nitrogen-based materials) and browns (carbon-based materials). Your compost bin doesn't need a perfect balance to be effective, but using some of each type of organic matter will produce the best results. Too much brown matter in your bin will be hard to decompose. Too much green matter will make the compost slimy. Here are some examples of great carbon and nitrogenous materials to put in your bin: Brown:
  • dry leaves
  • straw
  • newspaper
  • sawdust
  • wood chips
Green:
  • fruits and vegetables
  • weeds from the yard
  • fresh grass clippings
  • flowers
  • coffee grounds

Maintaining the compost pile

To create a good environment for decomposition you'll need three things: heat, moisture, and air. This makes compost bins relatively low-maintenance, but here are some tips to speed up the decomposition process: Heat In the spring and summer, nature will provide this for you, but having an enclosed bin that receives plenty of sunlight will help you out. Moisture The bacteria that are doing the composting in your bin require water to live. But too much water will make your bin a slimy mess. Shoot for moist, not wet. Air A compost bin needs to be aerated to blend the ingredients together. You don't need to turn it often; once every two to three weeks is fine.   Now that you know all you need to about making great compost for the lawn and garden, it's just a matter of mixing it in and reaping the rewards. Mix compost into garden soil and lawns early in the spring and in the fall after harvest to keep the soil healthy year-round.